Victor Rahul is a reflection of Modi, not a leader in his own right

14 December, 2018

During the Kisan Samriddhi Sankalp rally on 6 June this year, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi charged Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, with many sins. At the rally, which took place in Mandsaur, in Madhya Pradesh, Gandhi said Modi had written off bad loans worth Rs 2.5 lakh crore given to private companies, while ignoring the demands of farmers to waive off their debt. Gandhi promised that if his government came to power, he would waive off all farmers’ loans within ten days. “You start the count when we come to power,” he thundered over the loudspeaker. “It won’t take till the eleventh day to waive off the loans.” The crowd cheered him on. To bolster his promise, he boasted about how the United Progressive Alliance had waived off farmers’ loans worth Rs 70,000 crore in 2009.

Over the course of the next five months, Gandhi gave many such speeches while canvassing for votes in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. He made the same promise to farmers in these states, in a similar, animated fashion. Loan waivers along with creation of jobs made it to Congress’s election manifestos for the assembly elections as well. However, the party’s stand on the Vyapam scam, and illegal mining—a perennial issue in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—was missing from its manifestos.

On 11 December, Gandhi’s dynamic promises bore fruit—the Congress won the state assembly elections of Chhattisgarh with a full majority. In spite of emerging as the single-largest party in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it was two seats short of winning the elections in both states. The next day, Congress formed post-poll alliances and staked its claim to form the government in these states as well.

Gandhi first interacted with the press on the day of the results itself. The tone of his statements was starkly different from his pre-election rallies—he did not reiterate or sound committed to his loan-waiver statement. He was, at best, ambiguous and diplomatic. Throughout the press conference, Gandhi seemed to demur from the promises he made before the assembly elections.

When asked by the press if he will live up to his promise of waiving farm loans, Gandhi replied, “As soon as we form our government, the process of loan waiver will begin.” He refrained from giving a timeline. As he had earlier bragged about the UPA’s 2009 loan waiver, Gandhi was then asked whether he would announce a similar package for farmers if his party came to power at the centre in 2019. He said, “Karja maafi ek supportive step hai, karja maafi solution nahi hai.”—Loan waiver is a supportive step, it is not a solution. “The solution is more complex. The solution would be about supporting the farmers, building infrastructure, and we will do that,” he added.

Apart from farmers’ loans, in his pre-election rallies, Gandhi repeatedly reprimanded the Modi-led government for lack of jobs in the country. He claimed that his government will create millions of jobs—that it would set up agro-food processing factories across farmers’ fields in the states. He said, “Only farmers’ sons and daughters would get jobs in those factories. And these factories would buy farmers’ yield.”

Post-election though, he seemed to have forgotten this solution. His answer during the press interaction was again cryptic. Gandhi said, “The central issue is that of unemployment and farmers’ stress. We have to find a strategic solution to it. We have to give a thoughtful vision to these problems.”

As it has been barely two days since the assembly elections' results were announced, it is not yet possible to dismiss Gandhi’s farm-loan promise or declare his job-creation vision a lie. But going by his post-election statements, it appears that Gandhi’s campaign strategy was more about creating a counter to Modi’s narrative rather than responding to the issues on the ground. In a way, Congress was attempting to dilute the perception among the masses about the Modi government—of being hard on corruption, creating jobs and setting pro-farmer policies—and crafted its agenda around it.

Gandhi said, “The prime minister was elected on three platforms: unemployment, corruption and farmers.” He gave credit for his party’s victory to a new perception of Modi that prevailed among the public, one that is based on Modi’s failure on these platforms. “It was set in the people’s mind that the prime minister was really fighting against corruption. That feeling has gone. Now, what has crept into the people’s mind is that the prime minister himself is corrupt.”

That Gandhi likely centred his campaign only around Modi’s public perception is made clearer by his omissions—he ignored pertinent issues related to secularism and socialism that have crept up under Modi’s rule. Notably, on the campaign trail he has been silent over the unabated lynching of Muslims as well as several cases of atrocities against Dalits. These cases also include the murder of seven members of the Dalit community in Madhya Pradesh, on 2 April. His overtures to Modi’s Hindutvavadi base are also blatantly visible—since the Gujarat assembly elections in 2017, Gandhi has been seen visiting temples before addressing election rallies. A few weeks before the recent round of polls, his gotra occupied significant space in media coverage, ensuring that his Brahmin background was indisputable.

Even Gandhi’s comments and rhetoric appear similar to those that Modi employed in his campaigning before the 2014 elections. He held the crowd’s undivided attention during his election rallies. Often, he would just make a mocking expression during the pauses in his speeches. He shared anecdotes that showed the Modi government in a bad light. Once, he told people how he met Modi and had asked him to waive farmers’ loans. He then enacted how the prime minister gave him a stern look in response. He made snide remarks at Modi by narrating controversial stories—quoting a statement by the absconding business tycoon Vijay Mallya, Gandhi talked about how Mallya met the union finance minister Arun Jaitley in the corridors of the parliament. Recounting this at an election rally, Gandhi claimed that Jaitley had asked Mallya to flee.

While campaigning for the 2014 general elections, Modi said in a speech that he did not want to be the prime minister of the country, but its chowkidar. Gandhi frequently used this in his pre-election rallies this year. He told the crowd, “There is a new slogan now.” He would come close to the mic and say, “Chowkidar?” And the crowd would respond with, “Chor hai.”—is a thief. It would not have been a surprise if such a slogan came out of Modi’s mouth.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Congress had proved its majority in three states two days before the date of publishing. This has been corrected to reflect that the assembly-election results were announced two days earlier. The Caravan regrets the error.